A Coca-Cola 600/Indy double is an enticing idea worth exploring

Thursday May 20th, 2010

Bruton Smith has put an actuary to work figuring out the probability that one driver could win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2011 in order to purchase an insurance policy that would pay a $20 million bonus.

The premium would likely be worth it, given the increased revenues in ticket sales and television viewers.

Grand idea, Bruton, but the plan needs some revisions for there to be enough drivers and teams willing to undertake the time, expense and effort involved. They need to have a legitimate chance at winning both races to fully buy into what would be the largest payday in auto racing history.

Smith needs to move the Charlotte race to Saturday night and have qualifying on Thursday. That schedule would leave Friday for Indy's final practice (known as Carburetion Day), and Sunday for the 500 itself, leaving Monday for a rain date for either event. Kevin Harvick, who probably would like to do both races, expressed the same opinion last week at Dover.

"Move your race to Saturday night and put your money where your mouth is after that," Harvick said. "Give everybody a realistic shot at it ... it's not a show if you don't give everybody a realistic shot. That way those guys can really prepare for it and be in the cars at the right time and then give them a fair shot."

Smith undoubtedly would like to have his race after the Indy 500 to capitalize on the spike in television viewers zeroing in on the driver with the chance at the $20 million prize. But running Charlotte on Saturday would increase driver participation. Instead of two or three trying to run both races, there could be 10. That should help with ticket sales and the television rating. It also would allow for stronger media coverage.

Imagine a Coca-Cola 600 with Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon and an Indy 500 with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Would they all want to do it? Why not?

Yes, they'd need support from their car owners and sponsors and, maybe, their engine manufacturers. Toyota drivers in Sprint Cup likely wouldn't get permission to run in the all-Honda Indy 500. The rivalry between the two Japanese manufacturers is too bitter and contentious. But Chevrolet dropped the personal services contracts with its Sprint Cup drivers last year, making it contractually possible. If Johnson and Gordon were able to convince Rick Hendrick to allow them to do both races, wouldn't it open the floodgates for any driver, including Ford's Edwards? Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski said on Speed television's Wind Tunnel last Sunday that Dodge would allow it and he would do it if Penske would prepare a car. And, remember, Patrick has Honda power in IndyCar and drives a Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series. Nobody seems to object to it.

Wouldn't sponsors like Lowe's with Johnson and DuPont with Gordon like the opportunity to go to Indy with their trademarked driver in what could be a ratings bonanza? And what if one of them won both?

Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi are owners in IndyCar and Sprint Cup and the drivers with those two organizations have the best chances of making it happen. But with sponsorship, alliances in both series can be made, good efforts constructed. You'd probably see those running both at Charlotte and Indianapolis doing one or two other Cup and IndyCar races to prepare. It seems doubtful that Johnson would want to make his IndyCar debut in the Indy 500 or Castroneves would want to make his first Cup start in the Coca-Cola 600. The drama to the Memorial Day weekend would build.

It would be the ultimate challenge for drivers and teams in IndyCar and Sprint Cup. First, they'd have to qualify for both races, then race in different types of cars on different tracks on consecutive days. The $20 million for winning both would be a just reward for one of racing's greatest accomplishments.

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